Zen teacher discusses importance of meditation
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 01:03
Well-known Zen teacher Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, sensei abbot of the Mountains & Rivers Order in New York, spoke yesterday about the path towards a better, more peaceful life through Zen meditation to over 50 attendees at Distler Performance Hall.
The event, titled “Hearing with the Eye, Seeing with the Ear,” offered information on Zen values and instruction on Buddhist principles, and reflected on creativity and self-study.
Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History Ikumi Kaminishi introduced Arnold and said that in the 10 years she has known him, she has always wanted the opportunity to bring him to Tufts.
“He’s one of the most compassionate people,” she said. “We always carry baggage and he helps to carry that [baggage] with you.”
Arnold opened by bowing to the audience, slipping out of his shoes and assuming the full lotus position on a pillow set upon the stage. Kaminishi handed him a cup of tea, and he cleared his throat several times before beginning a discussion on individual experience and perception.
“The question is — what is the world?” he said. “In Buddhism, mind is also one of the modes of perception.”
According to Arnold, there are three essential elements that must come together to produce a perception. There must be the object of perception, the organ of perception — the eye — and a consciousness of the perception.
He said the world is not the same external world for everyone, but an individual’s projected perception of it as informed by personal memories and experiences.
“To see into our sense and to experience a sense of pleasure, what we need to do is see beyond the seemingly obvious of this pleasure and look deeper,” he said.
According to Arnold, Buddhism asks about the nature of experience and creation of people’s own realities. He said life becomes a constant strategy in which people try to find a way to preserve pleasure and avoid pain.
“The Buddha said in his first teaching that life is suffering,” he said. “Another way of looking at that is saying life is conflict. We are in conflict with the world, and the world wins.”
Arnold said that meditation provides a method for looking at the world with a clarity that the clouded mind otherwise prevents. Society discourages discomfort, but discomfort is necessary in order to confront what drives people’s perceptions, he said.
“We trash a lot of things that we cannot accept of ourselves [and] of the world,” Arnold said. “But it does not go away.”
The ultimate transformative aspect of meditation is the illumination that comes with freeing oneself from the desire to preserve pleasure and accept the existence of a world outside one’s perception, according to Arnold.
Arnold said he grew up in a non-religious but open family in the South, though he became disillusioned and dissatisfied in high school.
Desiring more, he began attending different churches every Sunday until he found, in a poor African-American community, one that gave him his first sense of inspiration, he said.
“I knew it wasn’t my path, but it was the first moment I felt something real,” Arnold said.
According to Arnold, he was led to Zen meditation, finding in Buddhism a path to a way of doing something positive with life.
“How from within a dark place can you recognize life?” Arnold asked. “This is one of the mysteries of humanity. We all think of ourselves as being powerless but we’re constantly affecting our power on each other. Every action has a moral value.”
Attendee Julie Perrone said she found the information Arnold presented educational. “It was something I knew very little about,” Perrone, a sophomore, said. “I thought he was very articulate.”
The event was sponsored by the Department of Art and Art History, the Department of Religion, the Asian Studies Program, the Charles Smith Endowment Fund and the Department of German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literatures.